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Fit and finish are excellent. With very little rocker, the Force needs some work to turn, but it turns well on edge, and holds an edge with moderate effort. The boat is fast. I consistently paddle at 5 mph measured by gps. Tracking is straight, but needs a little skeg when the wind or waves are following. It is a reasonably dry ride, with excellent primary and acceptable secondary stability. The hatches are waterproof, and need minimal maintenance. The backband is kind of a rusty mess that occasionally slips under stress, which can be disconcerting. I hope either IR or Impex will use real stainless or redesign this feature to be functional in salt water.
The only handling drawback is in following or quartering seas with wind- it tends to weathercock or broach, depending on the heading. Surfing requires concentration, but is huge fun. I learned to roll in the Force4. I am improving my butterfly roll this season; the boat was more than I was ready for when I bought it, but it teaches me something new every day.
It's a great looking boat. Fit and finish are nice. Impex does a nice job here. Comfy seat. It has an IR seat, with a low back. It's the nicest seat I've had in a kayak.
Surfs great. I've just started to surf in this, but so far so good. Not too corky either. I feel like I am in control of this boat. Cuts through waves efficiently. It has a nice combination of buoyancy and efficiency. I had a P&H Orion that made me feel like I was fighting the sea when in heavy waves; cut through them instead of over. Robbed a lot of energy.
It's not as fast as I was hoping. It holds it's own well, but you're not flying in it. It also turns great on edge.
Cons: Beam & aft quarter seas, it's all over the place. If your skeg isn't down, you're not going to track straight. Compensating strokes don't do it alone. I edged and compensated for several days (in similar sea conditions) before I gave up and used the skeg. Head on into wind, waves or tide, it's fine. I'm not sure why my review on this aspect differs so much from some of the other ones. Most reviews on here are positive about almost everything. I don't understand that. Just being honest.
Seems to be susceptible to weathercock as well. I'm not sure if I have figured it all out yet in this regard except to suggest that even at apex tide, flat water, aft wind really affects its tracking.
The hatches seem dry. I'm no lawyer, but I think I could store my legal documents in the day hatch, and they'd stay dry. I've seen a few drops come in around the skeg. I could fix it easily, but it's not much. A few drops (literally) in the front too.
It holds an edge fairly well, but not the best I've seen. I really need to work at it to hold it.
I've owned a Diamante (Impex), Orion, Sealutions II and a Kyook. The Diamante would still be my first choice if I hadn't "outgrown" it. I'd give my Diamante an 8.5 if I could.
A test summer of lakes, primarily Lake Michigan and rivers and I am very pleased. The boat is quick, smooth in chop, handles a cross wind and swell without any issues or paddler stress. In rough water this is not a Cadillac, but more of a Landrover with traction, it will get you there and you will enjoy the journey. The primary stability is good, secondary good, and leaning and a good paddle stroke gets a quick turn; surf requires you to pay attention, but handles well. Beach launches in waves may sometime get little stones in the skegbox and jam the skeg especially with less rocker, but the skeg is really a standby for strong crosswind help and tracking is good in almost all conditions without it. The cockpit "fit" I found perfect at 5'11" 185 pounds there is nothing I would change. A little more rocker maybe, but in all a great kayak, well built, well supported by the manufacturer and what also appeals to me - it is not built with low cost labor or poor quality control outside North America and Europe. It is built right here in North America where I can pick up the phone and if need be ask a directly involved craftsman with "builder-ship pride" for advice or repair guidance.
The Force 4 is the Lincoln Town car of seakayaks; smooth and steady, unperturbed by the ruts and potholes on the roads it travels. And yet the primary is light enough so that a gentle lean or shift in weight is all that's needed for course correction. The secondary is fairly strong allowing edge turns like bow rudders performing 180's. Somehow awesome for a rocker less over 18' boat. Beam or quartering seas are just taken in stride, no bracing and if a big one hits, you have time to brace. Maybe I'm getting older but this quiet smooth boat makes me want to stay on the rougher water longer and more often. Following seas are so much fun, yes it needs a little attention, stern rudders on occasion or leans, but slow and predictable when she moves off the perpendicular. Surfing in to the beach in three footers suggests that the Force 4 is just as sensible but may tend to broach left to right with the lightest correction from the low brace position, quite exciting. Launching back off the same beach however is a bit tougher than with rockered boats. Monkey walking into the surf, if the force isn't absolutely perpendicular to the incoming surf, the bow is easily pushed sideways. I also don't recommend grabbing the bow and dragging this boat up the beach when you land. The absence of rocker means that the skeg opening is vulnerable to gel coat breaks and chips.
Cockpits are a personal thing but I found this one to be close to perfect right out of the box. The seat hangers are only 15" wide so you must have reasonably narrow hips and thighs. Finally some thoughts on rolling: I do a sweep roll and occasionally the Pawlata as back up. The Force 4 is easy to roll if your technique is good, and difficult to roll if not. Don't raise your head and expect to come up like you can with the Nordkapp or even an Explorer. Not such a bad tradeoff, a boat that forces you to learn good technique! Lastly, I love those bow and stern handholds!
I ordered this boat through Pelee Wings, which is near Leamington Ontario, and when they ordered my custom color, Impex said that it was not in stock on the Cat 4. They adjusted their schedule, built the boat and I had my new kayak two weeks after it was ordered. Actually, I was not looking at the Cat 4 when I finished my research and started test paddling new fiberglass kayaks. I was interested in the Impex Currituck and Assateague (wasn't quite sure which would fit better), Wilderness Systems Tempest 170 and the Current Designs Gulfstream. The Currituck was too small for me and didn't handle all that well with my physical build. I carry my weight more in my chest and shoulders (swimmers build) and I found the Currituck a bit twitchy. The Assateague is much larger and felt too big (sorry if this is sounding like a three little bears story).
According to the Impex website there is a significant crossover for paddler size between these two models but I felt that there is a size gap that I fell right in the middle of. The Tempest is a great design, but I saw four different boats from three different retailers and well....there is no nice way to put this....the build quality was lousy. The bulkheads were sloppy and looked like they were put in by a kid, I could see fiberglass fabric pattern showing through various areas of the hulls and it turned out to be the most expensive boat I was looking at ($3500 Cdn). The design is good and the boat handles very well but the company just needs to put more effort into quality control.
I own a CD Sirocco, which I love, and looked at the Gulfstream since it is the fiberglass version with only a few minor size/shape differences. This is a classic design, but it appears that CD has put great emphasis on weight reduction and has it down to about 50 lbs in fiberglass. It felt like I was paddling a big eggshell and I have concerns about its durability.
When I paddled the Cat 4 it immediately caught my attention with great primary stability and easy maneuvering on edge. This I didn't expect, due to the narrow beam and flat rocker on this 18 foot cruiser. It edges easily and holds on the very solid secondary stability. I have had it out in 3-4' waves on Lake Erie and Lake Huron, finding it is a very good rough water boat. It rides following seas like it's on rails and surfing this boat is quite easy, with a little edge and stern rudder. I had heard that it was only average when it came to rolling. Actually, I found it quite easy to roll and my Sirocco is only slightly better (and it practically rolls itself). The VCP hatch covers keep the compartments bone dry and I have never found a drop of water in the hatches even after rolling practice in waves and surf.
I am a solid intermediate paddler and have found that this boat is has more potential than I currently have abilities. My skills improve each time I paddle it and I am looking forward to growing with my new Cat 4 for many years to come.
I can summarize my feeling about the kayak (and kayaking) by saying that every time I get settled in the foot pegs and back-band and take the first stroke forward into the ocean, I think, "I love my kayak". The quality and workmanship on my boat are excellent. When shopping for boats, I did see a kevlar Force 4 with a small area on the hull where the gel coat failed to cover the cloth - it was not being sold as a second, and the dealer appeared surprised by the problem (genuinely, I think). I was bothered enough by this lapse in quality control by Impex and/or the dealer that I made a point of buying my boat from another dealer, and checked it out especially carefully.
Overall, I like the seat and backband in the boat and feel very comfortable even when in the seat continuously for 7 hours. On my first couple of trips, it seemed to me that the seat had too much of a backward tilt. So I took the seat out, removed the two-three inch thick foam that was under the front edge of the seat and replaced it with a thin piece of minicell so that the seat is angled more forward. With this simple fix, I find the seat and backband very comfortable. The backband is an Immersion Research (Reggie model, I think). A weakness is that the ratchet mechanism is easily unlocked when reaching behind the backband to grab something stowed behind the seat. Also, after a year of salt water exposure, there was some corrosion of the ratchets and they started slipping occasionally. I ended up putting small bolts through the adjustable straps to hold the band at a fixed length.
The boat has molded-in thigh brace areas, not enough by themselves to get a good purchase for a hip snap but perfect for glueing additional minicell thigh braces. I did this and feel perfectly locked in for bracing and rolling, with plenty of room in the hips for good torso rotation. I could be bigger and still fit well in boat. Cockpit is big enough that at 5'11" I can re-enter butt first easily.
I don't have enough experience with other boats to evaluate the handling of this boat in comparison. But I can say that I love the handling of the boat. When aggressively edged (very natural with a Greenland paddle), the boat turns very nicely, especially with an extended paddle sweep. I often paddle with a friend who uses a Nordkapp LV or an Anas Acuta using a Euro paddle. Of the three boats, the Anas Acuta clearly turns more easily, but even in tight quarters in rocks, I've never felt at a real disadvantage - just need to edge a little more and use extended paddle strokes when there's room. I used the boat for a class in Woods Hole, practicing bow rudder eddy turns, and it worked fine. I've used it for many sessions practicing in surf where I need to get swiveled around pointing into the waves in a hurry. I'm sure that boats with more rocker would do this more easily, but I've never found myself thinking "I wish this boat would turn more easily."
I find the boat very stable. When stopping to eat or pee at sea, I feel very comfortable pulling the spray skirt and attending to business with the paddle stowed, in pretty much any size swell. By comparison, my friend's Norkapp LV and Anas Acuta sit lower in the water around the cockpit, and in the same conditions, he will often ship water into the cockpit with his spraydeck off. When we practice rescues in rough water, the Force 4 has a clear advantage in shipping less water while pumping than either the Nordkapp LV or Anas Acuta, for which this is a significant problem, especially for a self-rescue.
Overall, I find the Force 4 a perfect boat for the ocean paddling I've done with it, including trips with winds up to 20 knots and fairly big seas. If I could try an experiment with altering the hull of the boat, I would like to see the effect on handling of adding volume to the bow. Even when unloaded, when paddling into sizeable swell, the bow tends to drive into oncoming swell, while my friend's Nordkapp LV rides up more, which seems to be a little more efficient.
A change I would definitely suggest to Impex is to add bungies or perimeter lines immediately behind the cockpit (the back perimeter lines start fairly far back) to hold the paddle during a paddle-float self-rescue or to hold the paddle out-rigger style for additional stability when stopping to eat. There is a groove for the paddle shaft just behind the seat, which works great for self-rescues while just holding the paddle, but bungies would give more flexibility.
The skeg works fine. I don't use it much, only to reduce broaching with big following or quartering swells. A couple of times I have forgotten it was down when doing a beach landing: never any problem, the skeg just pushed back up on its own. It has never gotten stuck. My friend's Valley boats have gotten stuck skegs from pebbles from landings in the same conditions several times, so there seems to be some difference.
I suspect some leak into the cockpit, because after 3-4 hours in swell there is routinely 2-3 inches of water in the cockpit and it doesn't seem to depend on the newness of the sprayskirt or how carefully the skirt is mated to my drytop or drysuit (and happens even if I never rolled). It isn't enough to be annoying, so I've never tried to diagnose it. I suspect leakage through the skeg cable mechanism or around the bolts for the seat and/or foot peg tracks, but can't really rule out leakage through the spray skirt. Both main hatches and the dayhatch stay totally dry.
I read a lot on paddling.net about people who have had many different boats and who are still thinking about trading or buying another one. Probably it's partly my lack of experience with other boats, but there hasn't yet been a day on the water when I wished I had a different boat than the Force 4. At least for me, the Force 4 has a perfect combination of speed, stability in big seas, and maneuverability. The maneuverability is undoubtedly less than shorter or more rockered boats, but I've never felt limited by it even when following my friend in his Anas Acuta between rocks.
I love the boat for messing around with long-boat surfing or playing around in tidal races just as much for as for point to point paddling. I would recommend the Force 4 highly and it were ever stolen or smashed beyond repair, I would buy another one in a second.
To be brief, the Force 4 is one very sweet boat and if you are looking to buy a boat in this category you will do yourself a real diservice by not demoing it before making a purchase.
Want details for my opinion? OK.
While the specs show it to be a high volume boat, it does not paddle like one. Its rounded, full hull and deck give it a bulky appearance by itself on land, but when sitting next to many boats it looks quite lean in comparison. On the water it is low, long, and lean so from a pure aesthetic basis it is very appealing.
Impex quality is quite high and one advantage of buying from NA builders like Eddyline or Impex is a principal of the company is only a telephone call or e-mail away and they will be informative and straight. My impression is Impex will go the extra mile to make things right which is nice to know.
The cockpit is sized to be comfortable for long hours of paddling and easy exits when landing, the seat pan just naturally puts and keeps me in an erect position on my sits bones for proper paddling posture. At the end of a long day, that really helps. The thigh braces have a nice curve that allows a very secure grip when needed.
I cannot paddle the boat fast enough to know if it is "fast" boat as I have never felt it was close to hitting a wall even when I give out around 5.5K, but I swear I could paddle it to 3K with a soup spoon. It is very efficient and you can cruise all day long at 3.5-4K with minimal effort.
This category of boats includes many very competent boats which have rather different traits. They range from the Explorer which is often described as a boat that "takes care of you" to the Legend and Byahia which are often described as "demanding". I suspect people who choose a boat as opposed to going with the "in" boat in their area or club, pick a given boat based on how it fits them physically and if its handling traits match what they like. To each his own. The Force 4 to me is a boat that is very responsive and lively and will do what you ask it to do accurately, quickly, and easily, but it does not have a hair trigger feel to it. On the other side, while it will not protect you while you decide what to do or make you look good if you are not, neither will it dump you without adequate provocation and prior feedback. To me it has a wonderful balance of the "protective" and "demanding" boat traits to make it a joy to paddle. It is low and lean on the water resulting in an ability to easily hold a course and maintain good speed even if difficult circumstances.
Primary is fine for taking pictures and is better than its narrow beam would suggest. Secondary is very linear and predictable. Not a big shoulder with the "put it on edge and eat a ham sandwich" seconday some like, but if you want to be able to scull from 0 to 90 and back with ease and just shift your hips lightly to deal with stuff and still have a comfy feeling of where the boat is, then it is just right.
It seems an easy boat to roll despite the fact I do not roll boats easily.
To me the biggest surprise was that for an 18' foot solid tracking boat (I almost never use the skeg), it is quite nimble. Obviously not a Romany or Avocet, but lift a hip and it will turn (so well that corrective strokes are seldom needed) and it responds well to bow rudders, etc. so long as you lean it.
It will pick up and give you good rides on quite small waves and surfs bigger ones well too as it is not hard to control on the wave face and broaches in a slow fashion.
With a typical load for a few days it retains these traits quite well.
As I said, it is a very sweet boat to paddle and definitely belongs in the category of very competent "expedition" boats. Besides its capacity to go touring, I have found it to be a great day boat if you are out to cover ground with some wandering about ledges etc. as opposed to going out to play in rock gardens and surfing.
The Impex quality is exceptional. The Valley hatches stay bone dry even with frequent rolling. Minimal rocker makes this boat a great tracker with or without the retractable skeg. I have no problem executing tight leaned turns. So far I haven't seen a need to add extra padding to make my fit more secure as I did with my Meridian. At 18' X 20.75" it is plenty fast.
I am looking forward to a fun week of ME island camping with the Cat4.
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